Hummingbird - Trochilidae

Pronunciation key

( hum′ing·bûrd )
( humiŋ-bũrd′ )



Any one of hundreds of species of a group of a small, brilliantly colored bird with a long, slender beak and tongue used for probing the nectaries of flowers, and narrow wings. Many species do not reach a length greater than 3 inches. The Ruby-throat hummingbird which is slightly larger than its counterparts, measures around 3.75 inches in length. Their beaks vary in size and shape among different species according to the size and shape of the flowers which the birds extract insects and nectar upon which they subsist. The tongue is long, hollow and extensile, forked at the tip. The feathers are so delicately filamented they diffract sunlight into many spectrum colors thus adding artificial tinting to the hummingbird's natural pigment.

They are restricted to the New World. Though it is worth mention the birds called hummingbirds of Africa and India are sun-birds (Nectariniidae), and in England the humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossa stellarum) is occasionally mistaken for a true Trochilid. Of the family Trochilidae, these birds show the greatest diversity of forms on the slopes of the central Andes, with a few species farther north, as far as Alaska and the Straits of Magellan.

The smallest species, is the size of a bumblebee.

Sexes may be alike in plumage or differently colored. The males, in almost all cases, are arrayed in brilliant, iridescent feathers and some have curiously shaped crests, neck tufts or specialized tail plumes. Like their relatives, the swifts (Micropodidae), they have feeble feet but narrow, powerful wings.

Nests are made of moss, vegetable down, spider webs and other debris, and perhaps lichen or bark glued to the outside of their cup-shaped nest to camouflage the nest. Sometimes the nest is as small as 3/4 inch in diameter on the branch of a tree or its leaves. Typically the mother will produce solid two white eggs, almost invariably symmetrically pointed, which are typically no more than 1/4 inch in length, with no markings. During the breeding season hummingbirds are known to attack intruders 100x their size to protect their nest.

In the mid 20th century around 500 species of hummingbirds were known, and occur in every portion of the New World from Tierra del Fuego almost to Sitka, as a summer visitor, the Arctic circle. The majority of species are found on the slopes of the northern Andes in Columbia, while some species, though more sparse in number, populate the Amazon valley. The Ruby-Throat hummingbird is the only naturally occuring species in the Eastern United States which ranges from Labrador to Eastern Mexico and westward to central South Dakota. In the early 20th century, eighteen species were known to inhabit the United States, some of which only crossed the frontier. On Mount Chimborazo and elsewhere hummingbirds are found at an elevation of 16,000 ft., just below the level where snow is found year round. This is remarkable because the bird's size should require them to prefer a warmer climate due to heat-loss due to their small size.

Hummingbirds have captured the interest of leading scientists and naturalists including Waterton, Wilson, Audubon, Gosse, Wallace, Bates and others.

Ruby throated Hummingbird
Taxonomic Hierarchy
Kingdom Animalia – Animal, animals
Phylum Chordata – chordates
Subphylum Vertebrata – vertebrates
Class Aves – Birds
Order Apodiformes – Swifts, Hummingbirds
Family Trochilidae – Hummingbirds
Direct Children:
Subfamily Phaethornithinae
Subfamily Trochilinae
Ruby throated Hummingbird on nest

They thrive in mostly tropical climates, and are related to the swifts. They feed mainly on insects and nectar of flowers. They are named from the humming sound made by some species due to the rapid buzz-like hum of their wings during flight and hovering over flowers. It is notable in their anatomy they have extreme development of the beast-bone and keel in connection with the rapid wing-beat. Particularly noticeable in smaller species. The larger the bird, the slower the wing-beat. (see Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle). Due to the blur created by the rapid wing speed, sometimes they are mistaken for a large moth. The most common hummingbird of the United States is the ruby-throat.

Sizes range from 8.5 inches Patagonagigas to the 2 3/8 inches Mellisuga minima which weighs less than 2 grams.

Another common hummingbird of the United States is the rufous hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, found from Alaska to southern California. The bird is slightly more than 3.5 inches in length. The adult male is rufous brown with a green-yellow sheen above and white below. Its throat patch is red and greenish bronze. The female is greenish gold above with a brown rump; it is a grayish white with rufous sides.

The calliope, Stellula calliope, is the smallest hummingbird found in the United States, measuring slightly less than 3 inches in length. It is found in the mountainous regions of western United States and Canada. The male is greenish bronze above and white below, with green sides. The upper portion of its bill is black. The female is yellowish green above and pale rufous below.

South American hummingbirds of the genus Diplogena and Oreotrochilus are commonly called "hill stars".

Another common name for this bird: hummer, colibri or feathered gem.

Some genus of hummingbirds :

  1. Genus: Archilochus, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds – Reichenbach, 1854
  2. Genus: Lampornis, Blue-throated Hummingbirds – Swainson, 1827
  3. Genus: Cynanthus, Broad-billed Hummingbirds – Swainson, 1827
  4. Genus: Atthis, Bumblebee Hummingbirds – Reichenbach, 1854
  5. Genus: Stellula, Calliope Hummingbirds – Gould, 1861
  6. Genus: Calypte, Capped Hummingbirds – Gould, 1856
  7. Genus: Orthorhyncus, Crested Hummingbirds – Lacepede, 1799
  8. Genus: Calothorax, Lucifer Hummingbirds – G. R. Gray, 1840
  9. Genus: Eugenes, Magnificent Hummingbirds – Gould, 1856
  10. Genus: Selasphorus, Rufous Hummingbirds – Swainson, 1832

Some species of hummingbirds distributed throughout the world

  1. Allen's Hummingbird – Species: Selasphorus sasin (Lesson, 1829)
  2. Amazilia Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia amazilia (Lesson, 1827)
  3. Amethyst-throated Hummingbird – Species: Lampornis amethystinus Swainson, 1827
  4. Anna's Hummingbird – Species: Calypte anna (Lesson, 1829)
  5. Antillean Crested Hummingbird – Species: Orthorhyncus cristatus (Linnaeus, 1758)
  6. Azure-crowned Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia cyanocephala (Lesson, 1829)
  7. Beautiful Hummingbird – Species: Calothorax pulcher Gould, 1859
  8. Bee Hummingbird – Species: Mellisuga helenae (Lembeye, 1850)
  9. Berylline Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia beryllina (Deppe, 1830)
  10. Black-bellied Hummingbird – Species: Eupherusa nigriventris Lawrence, 1868
  11. Black-chinned Hummingbird – Species: Archilochus alexandri (Bourcier & Mulsant, 1846)
  12. Blue-capped Hummingbird – Species: Eupherusa cyanophrys J. S. Rowley & Orr, 1964
  13. Blue-chested Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia amabilis (Gould, 1853)
  14. Blue-headed Hummingbird – Species: Cyanophaia bicolor (Gmelin, 1788)
  15. Blue-tailed Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia cyanura Gould, 1859
  16. Blue-throated Hummingbird – Species: Lampornis clemenciae (Lesson, 1829)
  17. Broad-billed Hummingbird – Species: Cynanthus latirostris (Swainson, 1827)
  18. Broad-tailed Hummingbird – Species: Selasphorus platycercus (Swainson, 1827)
  19. Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer - Species: Chalybura urochrysia (Gould, 1861)
  20. Buff-bellied Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia yucatanensis (Cabot, 1845)
  21. Buffy Hummingbird – Species: Leucippus fallax (Bourcier, 1843)
  22. Bumblebee Hummingbird – Species: Atthis heloisa (Lesson & Delattre, 1839)
  23. Calliope Hummingbird – Species: Stellula calliope (Gould, 1847)
  24. Chestnut-bellied Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia castaneiventris (Gould, 1856)
  25. Cinnamon Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia rutila (Delattre, 1843)
  26. Copper-rumped Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia tobaci (Gmelin, 1788)
  27. Costa's Hummingbird – Species: Calypte costae (Bourcier, 1839)
  28. Dusky Hummingbird – Species: Cynanthus sordidus (Gould, 1859)
  29. Emerald-chinned Hummingbird – Species: Abeillia abeillei (Lesson & Delattre, 1839)
  30. Fiery-throated Hummingbird – Species: Panterpe insignis Cabanis & Heine, 1860
  31. Garnet-throated Hummingbird – Species: Lamprolaima rhami (Lesson, 1839)
  32. Giant Hummingbird – Species: Patagona gigas (Vieillot, 1824)
  33. Gilded Hummingbird – Species: Hylocharis chrysura (Shaw, 1812)
  34. Glow-throated Hummingbird – Species: Selasphorus ardens Salvin, 1870
  35. Gray-tailed Mountain-gem - Species: Lampornis castaneoventris cinereicauda
  36. Green-bellied Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia viridigaster (Bourcier, 1843)
  37. Green-fronted Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia viridifrons (Elliot, 1871)
  38. Hook-billed Hummingbird – Species: Glaucis dohrnii (Bourcier & Mulsant, 1852)
  39. Indigo-capped Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia cyanifrons (Bourcier, 1843)
  40. Loja Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia alticola Gould, 1860
  41. Lucifer Hummingbird – Species: Calothorax lucifer (Swainson, 1827)
  42. Magnificent Hummingbird – Species: Eugenes fulgens (Swainson, 1827)
  43. Mangrove Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia boucardi (Mulsant, 1877)
  44. Many-spotted Hummingbird – Species: Taphrospilus hypostictus (Gould, 1862)
  45. Oasis Hummingbird – Species: Rhodopis vesper (Lesson, 1829)
  46. Oaxaca Hummingbird – Species: Eupherusa cyanophrys J. S. Rowley & Orr, 1964
  47. Olive-spotted Hummingbird – Species: Leucippus chlorocercus Gould, 1866
  48. Pirre Hummingbird – Species: Goethalsia bella Nelson, 1912
  49. Purple-chested Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia rosenbergi (Boucard, 1895)
  50. Purple-throated Mountaingem - Species: Lampornis calolaemus (Salvin, 1865)
  51. Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Species: Archilochus colubris (Linnaeus, 1758)
  52. Ruby-topaz Hummingbird – Species: Chrysolampis mosquitus (Linnaeus, 1758)
  53. Rufous Hummingbird – Species: Selasphorus rufus (Gmelin, 1788)
  54. Rufous-cheeked Hummingbird – Species: Goethalsia bella Nelson, 1912
  55. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia tzacatl (De la Llave, 1833)
  56. Santa Marta Sabrewing
  57. Sapphire-bellied Hummingbird – Species: Lepidopyga lilliae Stone, 1918
  58. Sapphire-throated Hummingbird – Species: Lepidopyga coeruleogularis (Gould, 1851)
  59. Scintillant Hummingbird – Species: Selasphorus scintilla (Gould, 1851)
  60. Scissor-tailed Hummingbird – Species: Hylonympha macrocerca Gould, 1873
  61. Shining-green Hummingbird – Species: Lepidopyga goudoti (Bourcier, 1843)
  62. Snowy-bellied Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia edward (Delattre & Bourcier, 1846)
  63. Sombre Hummingbird – Species: Aphantochroa cirrochloris (Vieillot, 1818)
  64. Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird – Species: Tilmatura dupontii (Lesson, 1832)
  65. Speckled Hummingbird – Species: Adelomyia melanogenys (Fraser, 1840)
  66. Spot-throated Hummingbird – Species: Leucippus taczanowskii (P. L. Sclater, 1879)
  67. Steely-vented Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia saucerrottei (Delattre & Bourcier, 1846)
  68. Streamertail Hummingbird
  69. Stripe-tailed Hummingbird – Species: Eupherusa eximia (Delattre, 1843)
  70. Swallow-tailed Hummingbird – Species: Eupetomena macroura (Gmelin, 1788)
  71. Western Swallowtail Hummingbird
  72. Sword-billed Hummingbird – Species: Ensifera ensifera (Boissonneau, 1840)
  73. Tepui Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia cupreicauda Salvin & Godman, 1884
  74. Tooth-billed Hummingbird – Species: Androdon aequatorialis Gould, 1863
  75. Tumbes Hummingbird – Species: Leucippus baeri Simon, 1901
  76. Vervain Hummingbird – Species: Mellisuga minima (Linnaeus, 1758)
  77. Violet-bellied Hummingbird – Species: Damophila julie (Bourcier, 1842)
  78. Violet-capped Hummingbird – Species: Goldmania violiceps Nelson, 1911
  79. Violet-chested Hummingbird – Species: Sternoclyta cyanopectus (Gould, 1846)
  80. Violet-crowned Hummingbird – Species: Amazilia violiceps (Gould, 1859)
  81. Violet-headed Hummingbird – Species: Klais guimeti (Bourcier, 1843)
  82. Volcano Hummingbird – Species: Selasphorus flammula Salvin, 1865
  83. White Bellied Mountain Gem
  84. Wedge-billed Hummingbird – Species: Schistes geoffroyi (Bourcier, 1843)
  85. White-eared Hummingbird – Species: Hylocharis leucotis (Vieillot, 1818)
  86. White-tailed Hummingbird – Species: Eupherusa poliocerca Elliot, 1871
  87. White-throated Hummingbird – Species: Leucochloris albicollis (Vieillot, 1818)
  88. Wine-throated Hummingbird – Species: Atthis ellioti Ridgway, 1878
  89. Xantus's Hummingbird – Species: Hylocharis xantusii (Lawrence, 1860)

References and Further Reading

  • Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th Edition, ©1929
  • Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, ©1950
  • Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (College Edition) ©1955
  • Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary, Comprehensive International Edition, ©1976
  • Trochilidae, Taxonomic Serial No.: 178028
  • Collier's Encyclopedia, ©1960
  • Monograph of the Trochilidae, J. Gould
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